2018 Spring Convocation


University Convocation Spring 2018

February 6, 2018

Good afternoon, and welcome to Spring Convocation.  

I look forward to Spring Convocation. This gathering is an opportunity for the community to spend time together, an opportunity to share our excitement, our concerns, and our plans—and to acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead. We await news from Washington D.C. about the future of DACA and from Sacramento on our latest budget, knowing that our students’ futures are at stake.

At the same time, we begin this semester with great excitement for the outstanding work that each of you carry out each day. With each grant and award, our faculty brings greater distinction to the University. The College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology, has received an NSF grant of a million dollars to increase the number of students graduating in STEM. We continue to create alliances that leverage our resources and provide wonderful opportunities for our students and the community. Last fall we announced Achieve LA, a partnership with the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles that creates a pathway for students in underserved communities to attend the University. Earlier this year we announced our new partnership with Ballet Hispánico, the nationally renowned dance company. Through the partnership we will offer dance performances, community dance classes and workshops, and arts and interdisciplinary courses at Cal State LA. As you drive along Paseo Rancho Castilla, you’ll see that construction has started on the Rongxiang Xu Bioscience Innovation Center, which will house our bioscience incubator. And our second cohort of LA BioStart fellows has started. By providing opportunities to bioscience innovators and to the industry, we not only transform the lives of our students, we invigorate and transform communities. In April we will dedicate the Patricia A. Chin School of Nursing, which U.S. News and World Reports ranks as one of the best. Patricia Chin is a two-time Cal State LA alumna who, along with her husband, Dr. William Chin, provided the second largest gift in the University’s history. Next month, Dr. Terrence Roberts, an alumnus who was part of the Little Rock Nine, will serve as our Mind Matters lecturer. As a teenager, Dr. Roberts faced down mobs and endured threats and attacks as he and others integrated Central High School in Arkansas. His experiences and his self-discoveries during those times will resonate with our students today and offer lessons for surviving and thriving during difficult times.

These are the stories that we must tell in the halls of Washington D.C. and Sacramento, stories of transformed lives, prosperous futures and proud alumni who give back. Our legislators need to know about the ingenuity at play at our University every day, how our faculty do the hard work of securing grants to increase resources; how we take what we have and leverage it with community partners so our students will have greater opportunities, and how we support our region, helping to fuel the economy. The governor’s initial budget proposal for the CSU is significantly less than what we need. For the 2018-19 academic year, the CSU requested $262 million from the state to support five areas of investment:

  • Graduation Initiative 2025
  • Compensation increases for all employee groups
  • Enrollment growth
  • Infrastructure and deferred maintenance needs
  • Mandatory cost increases for health care, minimum wage and retirement

The governor’s proposed increase of $92 million is $171 million short of the CSU’s budget request and does not cover the university’s minimum obligations. I will be traveling to Sacramento in March for Advocacy Day and to Washington D.C. to speak with our elected representatives. I’m asking each of you to join this effort, add your voice to the call for the critical funding the CSU needs. Let’s stand together and tell the story of the outstanding work of our students, faculty and staff. Increasing numbers of our students are meeting the goals of Graduation 2025, graduating in five years rather than six, four years rather than five. Now, more than ever, the University needs to be a place that accommodates greater numbers of students, not fewer.


We look forward to the weeks and months ahead with a heightened awareness of the contentious times in which we live. The debates taking place on the national stage, the policies and decisions coming out of Washington have great impact on the lives of the University community. We have heard the disheartening decision affecting individuals with Temporary Protected Status that may require thousands of El Salvadorans and Haitians to leave this country. Soon we may see action taken on DACA. The fluid nature of the situation has required the University to remain vigilant and to act with urgency. In January, after a federal judge issued an injunction that reinstated DACA, we moved quickly: informing students of the urgent need to submit DACA renewal applications, providing assistance with application fees, and taking the photographs needed for the application. Last week we held an immigration forum to address developments with DACA and Temporary Protected Status. The numbers of students who received DACA application assistance and the sizable turnout for the forum demonstrate the deep concern that runs throughout our community.

Our position on Dreamers and our most vulnerable immigrant students is clear and unequivocal: These are our students and our colleagues. They are a part of our DNA. Dreamers and other immigrants deserve what every Cal State LA student receives: a life-changing education that will allow them to fulfill their potential and contribute to society. Our ability to boost our students up the ladder of prosperity has earned Cal State LA national acclaim---number one in the nation for the upward mobility of our students. But it has also earned us a powerful platform that we can use for the public good. Above the den of divisiveness, we speak about inclusion. Inclusion is at the heart of a Cal State LA education. Our graduates have had classmates from all over the city, the nation and the world. They’ve engaged with and learned from students of different religions, races, genders, and nationalities, in an environment in which all are respected and valued. Dreamers and other immigrant students are a part of the rich milieu at Cal State LA that prepares our students so well for success. Dreamers and other immigrant students are not strangers or interlopers. They are not a drain. They are not scofflaws. They are students who contribute hours and hours of service in community-based organizations and schools throughout the city, practicing Cal State LA’s ethic of engagement and service for the public good. They are students who are learning to be leaders through their positions in student government, clubs and organizations. Our students are becoming ambassadors for higher education, returning to their families and communities with clear evidence that the promise of higher education is being fulfilled. One of our greatest and most imaginative writers, Ursula Le Guin, who passed away recently, wrote about the role of the imagination in society. “We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom,” she wrote. “We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.” A fundamental gift of higher education is this: to liberate the imagination, and to help students attain the imagined.    

As we witness the polarization of our nation, we must widen our embrace of our various student populations. By doing so, we remind the nation of the value of inclusion, which is essentially an act of love. That’s why we must stand for Dreamers. And we must continue to increase the population of African American students on campus and to support those who are here. We must continue to be vigilant in our support for and protection of those who I’ve mentioned, along with others who have come under attack: the LGBTQ community, immigrants, victims of harassment and violence, Muslims and other religious minorities. The role of the University in these divisive times is to stand for the values and principles that are central to higher education and to a civil society, in passionate and compassionate dialogue with one another. During my investiture speech four years ago, I pointed out the work of Kenneth Burke, who said that each of us is “one voice in a dialogue. Put several such voices together,” he says, “with each voicing its own special assertion, let them act upon one another in cooperative competition, and you get a [discussion] that, properly developed, can lead to the views transcending the limitations of each.” Through such a dynamic dialogue, we refine and perfect our own ideas and perspectives. Four years ago, I could not foresee the rapid decline in the quality of our national conversation, nor did I know how critical the presence of passionate and compassionate dialogue would be to the University and the nation in 2018.

The city and the nation need Cal State LA. They need us to send into the world those students who have been a part of this community, and who graduate taking with them the values and ethics that we hold dear. Our students carry these into the world with them, as they have in the past, in order to find solutions, to innovate, design, to build, to heal, to engage in passionate and compassionate dialogue. In March, the University will commemorate the 1968 East L.A. Walkouts. The students who walked out to protest inequity in public education helped alter our systems of education for the better. The leadership of the walkouts included Cal State LA students and alumni. We will host a series of events in March, including a photo exhibition, an educational forum and a walk-in for a thousand students who will explore their history and hear why higher education must be in their future. This year also marks the 50thanniversary of the founding of our history-making Chicana/Chicano and Latina/Latino Studies Department. Our department was the first in the nation and it continues to be a leader. And the nation will mark a somber anniversary---the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who led a movement that changed the course of history in this nation. As we celebrate Black History Month, we remember the contributions of generations of African Americans to the goals of inclusion and social justice.  

These are peculiar times. We are shaped by history, but we can shape it as well, by resisting the tide of bigotry and bias, by standing together and telling our story. Thank you to each of you, for continuing to carry out the work that makes Cal State LA the premier public comprehensive university in the heart of Los Angeles. We would not be the great institution we are without you.